Time was, not so very long ago, when an avid reader could strike up a conversation in a bookstore aisle and get a novel or nonfiction recommendation from a perfect stranger shopping in the same store. Ask any book buyer and they’ll recall that such conversations and happenstance encounters are often what led them to discover their favorite author or a genre of literature they had never considered reading before.
Voracious readers in Hudson County could once patronize any number of stores in Jersey City and Hoboken – from B. Dalton to Barnes and Noble, Imagine Atrium, and Symposia Books. Of these options, only Symposia Books in Hoboken remains open today.
As Amazon has replaced bookstore aisles – and as the Kindle, the Nook, and iPad have allowed customers to download books online in the privacy of their homes at 3 o’clock in the morning – such encounters have become rare. Convenience has replaced community, and traditional bookshops have gone the way of the video and record store.
But Jersey City residents Aleta Valleau and her mother Carol Valleau are determined to succeed where others have thrown in the towel. Proclaiming that Jersey City needs a bookstore, the women last summer opened Tachair Bookshoppe at 260 Newark Ave. downtown. Now six months into their business venture, the pair is more convinced than ever that a traditional, offline bookstore can be profitable in Jersey City.
Jersey City residents Aleta Valleau and her mother Carol Valleau are determined to succeed where others have thrown in the towel.
The wait time involved with ordering online also makes it impossible to do the kind of last minute shopping every customer must do from time to time, she added.
Having found a niche they believe they can exploit, the Valleaus are also re-introducing their customers to the lost art of community building.
The store offers a seating area – which the Valleaus hope to expand with more tables and chairs – where customers can enjoy coffee and snacks sold at Tachair. And the store already has a robust line-up of readings planned by authors.
This Saturday at 7 p.m. writer John Hartmann will read from his book, “Jacket.” On Saturday, Jan. 19, Debra Devi, author of “The Language of the Blues from Alcorub to Zuzu,” will give a reading at 8 p.m. Other scheduled readings later this month and next will feature Jon D’Amore, author of “The Boss Always Sits in the Back,” and Dan North, author of “The Slow Walker.”
The Valleaus said the author readings have already reconnected Tachair customers to a type of dialog and exchange often missing when bookstores are unavailable to them.
“After the authors read, there’s usually a Q&A, and you should see they way the audience reacts,” said Carol Valleau. “Their eyes just light up!”
Such interactions, the women said, are the very essence of Tachair – both the bookstore and the word itself.
“Tachair is the Gaelic verb ‘to meet,’ ” Aleta Valleau said. “So the author readings and our other programs are very important to our mission and goal here.”
In addition to the author readings, the store features two reading clubs for children and will soon be home to several American Sign Language (ASL) classes. (Carol Valleau, a former special ed teacher, noted that ASL can enhance the language and reading skills of nonverbal children, whether they are deaf or not.) Eventually, the Valleaus hope to have enough money to apply for a variance from the city that will allow them to host live, coffeehouse-type musical performances as well.
The community, they said, is already hungry for such programming.
“We didn’t just open this. We did two years of market research,” said Carol Valleau, noting that she and Aleta initially sold used books at various local farmers markets before deciding to open the brick and mortar location on Newark Avenue. “We talked to as many people as we could and we kept saying, ‘Jersey City needs a book store.’ And everybody agreed.”
Tachair specializes in selling used books, but not the musty, stained, well-worn volumes often sold at similar stores.
“We’re very picky about the books we accept,” said Carol Valleau. “We won’t accept used books that have coffee or food stains or cigarette odors or anything like that.”
Indeed, the volumes for sale in the store on a recent Sunday all appeared to be brand new, and the store will special order new releases for customers who request it.
The store has begun to attract a customer base of regular and repeat shoppers. But Tachair has also become something of an oddity on the landscape as well.
“We’ve become sort of a tourist attraction,” said Aleta Valleau. “People will come in with their parents who are visiting from out of town and say, ‘Look! This is the book store I was telling you about.’ A lot of people come in and their first reaction is just shock.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.